December 5

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Dec 5 - 12:5:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (December 5, 1769).

PHILO’s Essex Almanack, For the Year 1770.”

The December 5, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette included two advertisements for almanacs. A brief notice announcing that “Low’s Almanack, for 1770, is to be sold by the Printer hereof” ran once again on the final page. A more extensive notice about “PHILO’s Essex Almanack, For the Year 1770” appeared on the third page. It stated that the almanac would be published on the following Friday and sold by Samuel Hall, the printer of the Essex Gazette. The advertisement also offered an overview of the almanac’s contents: “besides the usual astronomical Calculations, about Thirty Pieces, religious, political, philosophical, historical, proverbial satyrical, humorous, witty, sarcastical, and comical,— interspersed with a Variety of instructive Sentences, excellent Cautions, and profitable Sayings.” In previewing the contents, Hall deployed a common marketing strategy intended to incite interest in almanacs. Printers, authors, booksellers, and other retailers did so in hopes of distinguishing their almanacs from the many others available in the colonial marketplace.

In Massachusetts alone, colonists could chose from among at least eight different almanacs for 1770 published by local printers, according to Milton Drake’s bibliography of early American almanacs.[1] (Reprints and variant titles brought the total to ten.) With the exception of Philo’s Essex Almanack printed in Salem by Samuel Hall, all were printed in Boston. Hall also printed the Essex Gazette, the colony’s only newspaper not published in Boston. This may help to explain the different treatment Philo’s Essex Almanack and Low’s Astronomical Diary, or Almanack for 1770 received in the advertisements in the Essex Gazette. When it came to selling the latter, Hall served as a retailer and local agent for Kneeland and Adams. He likely had less interest in giving over space in his newspaper to promoting that almanac, especially when he had his own publication soon to come off the press. He exercised his prerogative as printer to give the advertisement for his own almanac a privileged place in the Essex Gazette, placing it immediately after the shipping news from the customs house in the December 5 edition. It was thus the first advertisement of any sort that readers encountered if they began on the first page and skimmed through the contents in order.

Like most of the other advertisements that ran in the Essex Gazette, this one was relatively streamlined compared to some that appeared in other newspapers. The title page of Philo’s Essex Almanack indicated that it had been “Calculated for the Meridian of SALEM, in NEW-ENGLAND, Lat. 42 D. 35 M. North,” making it the only almanac specific to that location … yet Hall did not acknowledge this in his advertisement as a means of capturing the local market.[2] Hall intended to sell the almanac “wholesale and Retail,” according to the advertisement, but he listed the prices on the title page rather than in the newspaper. While he certainly put more effort into marketing his own almanac over others, Hall still neglected to adopt strategies that other printers, authors, and booksellers sometimes included in their advertisements. Given that many other almanacs were well established in a crowded marketplace, this may help to explain why Philo’s Essex Almanack did not appear in a new edition the following year.

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[1] Milton Drake, Almanacs of the United States (New York: Scarecrow Press, 1962), 306-307.

[2] Philo’s Essex Almanack, for the Year of Our Lord Christ, 1770 (Salem, Massachusetts: Samuel Hall, 1769).